A California man was sentenced to two years in prison Friday for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old foreign exchange student he was hosting.
Jose Espino Vejar, 37, was convicted in Fresno County Superior Court of a single count of sexual battery by restraint involving a French student who was living in his home in order to attend an American high school.
But instead of happy memories of her time in the U.S., the teenager took home the trauma of being sexually assaulted by her host father, said prosecutor Andrew Janz.
Janz worked out a plea agreement with the defendant where he would plead no contest to sexual battery by restraint in exchange for dropping the remaining charges of rape, two counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and two counts of lewd acts on a 14- or 15-year-old child.
Janz said the case took longer than expected to prosecute, in part, because it involved law enforcement agencies in two countries.
According to court documents, Vejar and his wife volunteered in 2014 to be host parents for the foreign exchange student. The student enrolled as a freshman at a high school in the Fresno area, living with the Vejars from August 2014 to October 2014.
It was during that time that the student told police Vejar kissed her on several occasions and had sex with her twice, all of which was non-consensual. He also sent her inappropriate text messages, the documents said.
When his wife saw the text messages she had the student transferred to another host family. The student did not speak about the incident until after she returned home to France the following year.
Initially, Vejar told police the sex was consensual, but he later admitted his guilt. His attorney Brian Andritch said his client was ready to accept his punishment. He added that Vejar is married, has a job and recently had a child.
“He knows what he did was wrong,” Andritch said.
Vejar, who was out of custody and seated next to Andritch, offered a brief apology to the former student, who is now 22 and continues living in France.
“I would like to apologize to the victim for all the harm I have done to her,” Vejar said.
The former student appeared remotely on a video monitor. She sat in between her parents and had little to no reaction to Vejar’s apology.
She told Judge Jon Kapetan that she was satisfied with his prison sentence and the charge. She also wrote a statement to the court, which prosecutor Janz read.
In her statement she said Vejar was supposed to be a father figure, but instead he sexually assaulted her. As a result, that has caused her to distrust men, even within her own family.
She has anxiety attacks and has battled an eating disorder. She has been to therapy, but fears having a relapse.
“I know I may never be able to recover from it completely and that I can only learn to live with it,” she wrote in her statement.
Janz said he felt a sense of embarrassment for what Vejar did.
“As a member of this community I am sickened, sad and sorry for what she has had to go through,” Janz said. “And if we were able to give her a formal apology I would, but I can’t and the best thing I can do is to give her justice in this case.”
The judge also said he felt badly about the student’s experience in the United States.
“She came here to be educated, to learn a little about a different part of the world,” Kapetan said. “And instead she is betrayed and victimized.”
The judge allowed Vejar to remain out of custody and to report to the jail on Sept. 2 to begin serving his sentence. Vejar must also register as a sex offender.